Win Over Dallas Marks Turning Point of Suns' Season

By Stefan Swiat, Suns.com
Posted: April 23, 2010

The great American poet Robert Frost once famously wrote about the choice between taking two diverging roads in the forest. It’s the penultimate tale; the flip of a coin that really isn’t the flip of the coin, but rather a choice about the destiny you create for yourself.

That fork in the road appears for everyone in life, with the Phoenix Suns being no exception. Their fork in the road this season occurred when they played host to the Dallas Mavericks on January 28.

That was the night the Suns decided they weren’t just another team with talent, but a team that was going to leave its imprint on the Western Conference and the NBA this season.

After losing seven of their previous nine games and going through a phase where blowing double-digit leads was commonplace, the Suns hosted a red-hot Mavs club that was showing no signs of slowing in Phoenix. As the Suns headed back into the locker room at halftime, they had two things working against them.

Besides the fact they were down at the half, they also seemed well on their way to losing their 19th-consecutive game on TNT. But that was before Mavs guard Jason Terry and his sideline interview with TNT aired in the Suns’ locker room.

“Jason Terry made a statement against our team that ‘we should score against these guys every time,’” Suns Head Coach Alvin Genry said. “I played it in the locker room for them at the half and he said, ‘These guys are terrible defensively, we should score on them every time.’ I played that for our guys and I think they took that to heart.

“I said, ‘This is the perception of our team in the NBA’ and ‘This is what they’re saying at halftime of a nationally-televised game.’ They’re saying we should score on these guys every time.”

With the Mavs trailing for only two possessions and 40 seconds over the first three quarters, they found themselves ahead of Phoenix by eight early in the fourth period. All signs pointed to Dallas cruising to its fifth win in seven tries.

But whether it was pride, desperation or embarrassment that kicked in, something took hold of the Suns. Even with star forward Amar’e Stoudemire on the bench, the Suns began to rally.

Reserves Louis Amundson, Jared Dudey and Goran Dragic all helped fuel the scoring attack. But more importantly, the team dug in its heels defensively and shut down one of the most dangerous offensive teams in the league.

“I think that was the turning point in the season,” Suns guard Jason Richardson said. “At halftime guys said we couldn’t play defense and that really got to us. It was a pride thing and I think ever since then we’ve really picked it up on the defensive end.

“We had that tough stretch where we were up 20 points and then gave those leads up. (Terry’s interview) fueled us. It got us mad. I think that’s what got us playing so great since that game.”

Veteran Grant Hill concurred.

“I think it all (turned around) when we won that Dallas game,” Hill said. “That Dallas game was huge. Our defense got better and we got J-Rich more involved.

“We kind of learned from our midseason failures. We just started to click, and sometimes that’s all it takes.”

After a stretch where the team went 1-12 on the road, Phoenix went on to rattle off 13 wins in their final 17 road games. A team always known for its offense had finally used its defense to win an important game.

It’s seems almost too serendipitous that on the night that the NBA’s most potent offensive team reversed its TNT curse, was the same night it finally decided to take a stand defensively. The Suns had finally made a decision about their destiny this season; one that was unfamiliar from seasons’ past.

“I think we got caught in a rut there in December and January and we couldn’t figure ourselves out,” Suns guard Steve Nash said. “A lot of times I think we had a lot of hesitation and passive play and that’s not good for this group. We’re not talented enough or big enough to be passive, so we have to be aggressive.”

The inspired play of the Suns proved that by competing with focused aggression they could defeat a team of Dallas’ caliber, even with their leading scorer cheering from the bench. That proof would be all they need to become the hottest team in the West after the All-Star break, as well as the galvanizing force behind continuing down the road less traveled.

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